Army Ranger Spc. Sean Pesce was shot 13 times last October in Afghanistan. He is 20, thin with brown hair and a shy smile, and paralyzed from the waist down. He has improved so much that he was being released from the James A. Haley VA Medical Center this past week and transferred to Boston, which is closer to his home.
"I'm excited," he said.
Throughout his ordeal, Pesce has had advocates navigating the military and medical system for him, with its dizzying amounts of complex paperwork, making sure he and his family got what they needed. The Care Coalition, which was ranked 25th out of 50 of the best small workplaces in the Tampa Bay area, is an agency within U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base that helps the injured and sick men and women of Special Operations. These are military's elite forces, such as Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. It doesn't matter whether the person was wounded in battle, like Pesce, or a 70-year-old veteran dealing with cancer. The agency helps those in combat forces and workers in support positions.
"We wanted to track our guys so they always have someone to turn to," said Sgt. Major Kelly Ammerman, the senior enlisted adviser for the Care Coalition and a Green Beret who has been in the military for 23 years.
"We want to get them to the best quality of life that they can have," he said.
The Care Coalition was founded in 2005 and has about 80 employees, half at MacDill and the rest stationed around the world. The employees are a mix of active and retired military, plus civilians with special skill sets, registered nurses and social workers. Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Kelly, an Army Ranger who has been in the military since 1994, has worked with the agency for a year. He spent his career as a medic treating catastrophic wounds on the battlefield. Now he has that same intensity in making sure his soldiers, including Pesce, get all they need.
Kelly has worked with Pesce's family for months. For the move to Boston, Kelly found him an apartment, arranged flights, made sure someone was there to meet him and that Pesce still gets his paychecks and his medical treatments. He got Pesce extra money through a charity. Another charity flew Pesce's girlfriend home.
"How will I be getting to the airport?" Pesce's girlfriend, Zuly Vazquez, asked in the hospital room Wednesday, the day before her flight. She needed to leave for the airport by 6:30 a.m.
"I'll just come up here with the van and get you," Kelly said.
Gail Pesce hasn't left her son's side since he was flown back to the States shortly after he was injured Oct. 12. She had to leave her husband and two sons at their home in Connecticut.
She's thankful for Kelly and the Care Coalition because they navigate the system for her and take care of so many things so she can spend her time being a mom.
"I get to focus on him and helping him get better," she said. "It would have been horrible if we didn't have them."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3405.